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How to recharge the accounting profession

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The CPA of the future is transcending gender, race and ethnicity, instilling accounting firms with a diversity of thought that broadens the scope of services available for clients competing in a fast-paced business environment.

In this field labeled "traditionally male-dominated," I believe that women are poised to find and create great opportunities for themselves. By approaching their careers strategically, women can fill the leadership roles denied to their predecessors and, in the process, help shape their firms into dynamic workplaces, equipped to employ technology and creative thought to keep clients ahead of the game.

Still, challenges remain, and March, which is Women's History Month, marks a good time to face them and devise solutions.

Half of accounting graduates are women, but fewer than 15 percent are in executive or management positions, and only 4 percent are CEOs. Clearly, more women are moving out than moving up. To me, this imbalance means that too many women are missing out on careers that put them among bright, self-motivated people, while firms are failing to tap a deep talent pool for new ideas and innovations.

Fortunately, change can happen rapidly. As Kimberly N. Ellison-Taylor, American Institute of CPAs chairman has said, we don't have to look far into the future to see the talent pool broadening. We can bring about change every day by adopting her philosophy of "Each one, reach one."

As individuals and as a profession, all CPAs can help cultivate a field where women thrive and take leadership roles. I've learned a range of lessons along the way that apply to encouraging women to stay in the field and strive for leadership roles:

• Rethink mentoring: Mentors and their mentees shouldn't look and think alike. Mentors should challenge their mentees to fill gaps in their skill sets. Mentees themselves should squarely assess their strengths and weaknesses with an eye on finding the mentor who can address their needs. Even veterans in the field should seek out mentors who can help them keep pace with rapidly changing technology and trends.

• Expand horizons: In the early years of my career, I knew about the importance of community involvement, but instead of getting to pick my passions, my managers chose the causes in which I engaged. The experience taught me that I could be forced outside my comfort zone and survive. I networked with people I would never have encountered otherwise, learned new skill sets, and saw different leadership styles in action. All of those factors are essential bricks in the foundation of a fulfilling professional career.

• Expect excellence, and reinvent: The path to leadership is rarely straight. When I started in the profession, I focused on learning and absorbing everything I could. As I built expertise, our partners and managers realized we had created opportunities to champion new specialties, so we went out and sought that business. I changed my practice focus three times, flourishing under the kinds of professional challenges that keep the best and brightest in the profession.

• Verbalize, and listen: Women often believe that the way to achievement is through overqualification and keeping their noses to the grindstone. They fail to recognize that stating their career goals – out loud – lets others see them in their desired positions and help guide them there. On the flip side, it's up to leadership to hear what they're saying and craft an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes their ideas and provides increasing responsibilities as they climb the career ladder.

• Fill the slate with qualified people: In our environment, we build the team and then pick the work. The more inclusive the workplace, the better the ideas that can be crafted into sellable propositions. When everyone on a board or in leadership has similar mindsets, they're going to attract more of the same, causing energy to flag and bright ideas to languish. Inclusiveness demands breaking boundaries, cultivating young talent in schools and universities, and welcoming it into the fold when it's ready to fly.

Today's CPA is a highly trusted professional, valued for the essential skill of problem solving. By aligning our skills with the most pressing needs of businesses, now and in the future, we can position the profession as an invaluable partner in addressing overregulation, increasing tax burden, cyber security, and all the other worries plaguing today's CEOs.

Ushering women and all other traditionally underrepresented talents into this exciting atmosphere assures that the profession is constantly recharged with vibrancy and fresh perspectives.

Lisa A. Myers is a principal at Boyer & Ritter LLC in Camp Hill and president of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants. She is a member of the firm’s Government Services and Forensic, Valuation and Litigation Support Services groups and can be reached at 717-761-7210 or lmyers@cpabr.com.

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